The European Union’s deal with Turkey to control the streaming of refugees into Europe has become a bittersweet issue, as some EU member states see the pact as a blackmail from Ankara to meet its longstanding demands.
Finally, the EU on Wednesday gave conditional backing to visa-free travel for Turks under a migrant deal. It also announced new asylum rules including fines for countries that refuse their share of refugees.
The UN, rights groups and Queen of Jordan view the Brussels-Ankara deal unfair as they say it turns a blind eye to those fleeing conflicts.
In its entirety, let’s be fair, the deal is the only option left for EU to stem the flow of refugees into Europe. A highly contested EU deal with Turkey may not be ideal, but it is the only solution to stem the migration crisis, the bloc’s
Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said.
Under the deal, Turkey accepts refugees from Greece in exchange for 6 billion euros ($6.9 billion) and the right for its citizens to visa-free travel in
Turkey has agreed to take back certain migrants fleeing to Greece in exchange for visa-free travel in the EU. The EU will accept one vetted refugee already in Turkey for each unvetted refugee Turkey accepts from Greece.
The deal is apparently working. So far, some success has been achieved. Before the agreement, and before Macedonia closed its border with Greece, up to 10,000 asylum seekers a day crossed the Mediterranean to the Hellenic Republic. Hundreds died in the attempt. But now as few as 50 people per day are arriving on the Greek islands. Last year, more than 1 million asylum
seekers arrived in the EU.
Seen in other perspectives, the agreement is saving lives. It may also allow Europe to keep open its internal borders, which brings huge economic benefits to the entire continent.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said visa-free travel could herald a “new page” in the often troubled relations between the EU and Ankara, but warned Brussels to “stick to its promise”.
For Turkey’s citizens to enter into the Schengen area without visas by June, the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, said Turkey must still implement further measures.
Visa-free travel backing is still conditional as Turkey has to meet a list of 72 criteria — ranging from biometric passports to respect for human rights — that were set when Brussels and Ankara first talked about 90-day visa-free travel to the Schengen area. Interestingly, only 64 out of the 72 criteria are fulfilled and therefore the commission’s offer would have riders.
Turkey, which holds an ace, has pressed the EU to respect its promises over what Ankara regards as its big win from the deal which was signed at a summit on March 18.
The agreement is not an open cheque. Both Germany and France have proposed an emergency brake – or “snap-back mechanism” – under which it could halt visa-free travel if large numbers of Turks stay in the EU illegally or if there are a large number of asylum applications by Turks. In this case, Ankara may reciprocate to throw the deal in doubt.
Though the accord is awash with legal and moral concerns, and critics have accused the EU of sacrificing its values and overlooking Turkey’s growing crackdown on free speech in order to secure the deal, the resolve demonstrated by main EU players will help sustain the pact despite challenges.
Those opposing the deal in the EU didn’t see the other side of the coin. Without this agreement, the streaming of the refugees into Europe would have continued unabated at the highest rate of 2015 during which one million refugees entered Europe.